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The Red and the Black (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 24, 2002

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 607 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (September 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140447644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140447644
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 4.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Henri Marie Beyle (1783-1842) had a post in the Ministry of War and followed Napoleon's campaigns before retiring to Italy. Here, as 'Stendhal', he began writing on art, music and travel. He later wrote novels, literary criticism, and various biographical and autobiographical works. Roger Gard was a Reader in English at Queen Mary & Westfield College, University of London. He has published work on Henry James and Jane Austen alongside his translations.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 From his earliest childhood he had experienced moments of rapture. Then, he would dream with delight that he would one day encounter the beautiful women of Paris, and would compel their attention by some famous deed. Why should he not be loved by one of them as Bonaparte, while still poor, had been loved by the brilliant Mme de Beauharnais? For many years, scarcely an hour of Julien's life passed without his telling himself that Bonaparte, an obscure and penniless lieutenant, had made himself the master of the world with his sword. This idea consoled him for his sufferings, which he thought great, and redoubled his happiness when he had any.

The construction of the church and the Justice of the Peace's judgements suddenly enlightened him; and idea came to him which made him distraught for some weeks,  and seized hold of him with the overwhelming force belonging to the first idea with which a passionate nature believe itself to have been inspired.

'When Bonaparte made people talk about him, France was in danger of invasion; military talent was necessary and fashionable. Today one sees 40-year-old priests with stipends of a hundred thousand francs, that is to say, three times more than Napoleon's famous generals. They need people behind them to support them. Look at this Justice of the peace, so sensible, such a fine upstanding man until now, so established, who has dishonoured himself for fear of offending a young clergyman of thirty. It is necessary to be a priest.'

On one occasion, in the midst of this new piety, and after he had already been studying theology for two years, he was betrayed into a sudden eruption of the fire that consumed his soul. At M. Chélan's dwelling, during a dinner for the clergy to whom the good curé was presenting him as a prodigy of tuition, he found himself fervidly praising Napoleon. He bound his right arm across his chest, pretending it had been dislocated in moving a pine trunk, and carried it in this irksome position for two months. After this bodily penance, he absolved himself. This was the young man of nineteen - but so seemingly frail that one would have taken him for no more than seventeen - who, carrying his little parcel under his arm, entered the magnificent church of Verrières.

He found it sombre and solitary. To mark a festival all the church windows had been covered with crimson cloth. The sun's rays shone through to produce a dim light, most pious and imposing. Julien shivered. Alone in the church, he established himself in the pew that had the finest appearance. It bore the arms of M. de Rênal.

 On the payer desk Julien noticed a fragment of printed paper, spread out as though to be read. He directed his eyes towards it and saw:

Details of the execution and the last moments of Louis Jenrel, executed at Besancon, on the...

The paper was torn off. On the other side could be seen the first words of a line, which were: The first step.

- Who could have put this paper here? said Julien. Poor devil, he added with a sigh, his names ends like mine... and he crumpled the paper.

Leaving, Julien thought he saw blood next to the holy water stoup - it was holy water that had been spilled: the reflection from the red blinds covering the windows gave it the appearance of blood.

Eventually Julien was ashamed of his secret terror.

- Am I a coward! he said to himself, To arms!

This phrase, so often repeasted in the Surgeon-major's accounts of battles, represented the heroic for Julien. He raised himself up and walked rapidly towards M. de Rênal's house.

  In spite of these fine resolves, from the moment he saw it twenty paces away, he was seized with an overpowering timidity. The iron grille was open; to him it seemed magnificent; and it was up to him to enter in.


Customer Reviews

This is a beautifully written book and I enjoyed reading it.
On the other hand, Stendhal merely presents his main characters having interior monologues as if this were the most natural thing in the world.
Vincent Poirier
This novel is also a portrait of an era in 19th century France after the exile of Napoleon to St. Helena.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A. Sura on July 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book operates on two levels. First, it is a stunning psychological portrayal of Julien Sorel, a peasant who, despite his revolt against society, ends up succumbing to it through hypocrisy. Second, it is a biting satire of 19th century France: its elitism, its hypocrisy, its pretense.

Stendahl believed that bourgeois society rules dominate, and all one can do is try to succeed within it, and do what one must in order to move up. We see that manifested directly with Julien. He hates the world that has created him, yet he has no other choice but to act according to its rules. Social mobility hinges on flattery and calculation.

Why must Julien abide to these rules? Love. His love for women of high society chains him to the dictums of these very patricians. Ironically, this love is reflective of his values. Yet, in the end, he must sacrifice the values that have made his love possible. As we see, Julien hates himself because he must sacrifice his principles for the sake of love, which becomes in the process essentially meaningless.

This is a tale replete with splendid imagery, charming dialogue, and quick wit. It's a sad state of our times when books like "Catcher in the Rye" are conferred with the status of speaking for our generation. Books like "Red and Black" hit home harder, although roughly 200 years old. This book is truly timeless. I agree with the reviewers who claim that this book must be read twice in order to be appreciated. A veritable masterpiece!
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Wordsworth on January 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Red and the Black is a profound and witty book about the rise of a poor, handsome and intellectually gifted, young provincial into the salons of High Society in Paris. This novel is also a portrait of an era in 19th century France after the exile of Napoleon to St. Helena. The powerful, witty epigrams that appear in page after page of gorgeous prose left me almost as intrigued by the talent of the author as by the unexpected twists in the exhausting love life and fascinating careers in church and state of Julian Sorel. The language of the Gard translation was truly a joy to read -- it was lyrical and rich. Stendhal's novel is an astonishing but lesser read masterpiece from the salons of Paris, which produced Moliere, Balzac and Proust to name only a few. I can't recommend highly enough this worthy and rapturous novel by Stendhal. If this is Al Gore's favorite novel, then my respect for him has gone up a notch.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By zero on February 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Red and the Black is like no novel that I have ever read. The issues raised, and there are many, dealing with love, marriage, illusion, the role of religion in society, the nature of God, capital punishment, the role of class in society and countless others, are as relevant to life in America in 2006 as they were to France in 1830. The story not only has great intellectual depth, it is also wildly entertaining, as related by the sarcastic, cynical narrator who never seems to be able to decide whether he likes, or despises, his hero and those with whom he comes in contact. If I could give a rating higher than five stars, I would. This was the best book I have read in quite a few years.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By T. M. Teale on February 19, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel has everything: political intrigue, the psychological detail of detective work, the ambiguity of love and romance; it's a comedy of manners, but also a saga of helplessness and tragedy, incisive social commentary. Published in 1830, The Red and The Black, is timeless: its relevance to contemporary Westernized or Americanized, bureaucratic, and capitalist-developed nations is both a condemnation and a triumph.

The Red and the Black first caught my attention 25 years ago in January 1983; a stack of copies were set out on a table in the Tattered Cover Bookshop, Denver (then on 1st Avenue in the Cherry Creek area). At that time, the Penguin edition was a new translation to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author, Henri-Marie Beyle, January 23, 1783. I don't know how or why I decided to buy a copy; maybe it had something to do with the brief review on the back cover, which was perhaps then as it is now: "Handsome, ambitious Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble provincial origins." Maybe I saw something of Julien in myself, or maybe like Mathilde de la Mole, I was looking for a life outside the script dictated by parents and society, or trying to find a world beyond materialism and utilitarianism, something inspirational and possibly Romantic. It was with this novel that I first realized that a writer could communicate intimately across centuries; I fell in love with Stendhal. I wanted to know about his life. He wrote with integrity; he wrote what he knew to be true about life, and he did not let the marketplace dictate what he should write. Beyle was a human being first, then a writer.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Stendhal's LE ROUGE ET LE NOIR is subtitled "Chronicle of 1830." For many readers, I should imagine, the events of this year will be as obscure as they were to me. I cannot quite fathom how the French retreated from their Revolution to embrace first an Emperor (Napoleon) then a variety of restored monarchies; the July Revolution of 1830, far from being the total overturn of four decades earlier, resulted merely in the replacement of the King by his cousin. But it is clear that there were strong currents tugging beneath the surface in religion and society, as both church and aristocracy sought to reestablish their old power and patronage, the provincial bourgeoisie held a tight grip on local affairs, and young people of talent from the peasant classes sought to make their mark in any way possible.

Julien Sorel, Stendhal's protagonist, is just such a young peasant. The son of a boorish sawmill operator in the Jura region, he develops his remarkably quick mind by studying Latin and philosophy with the local priest (his first mentor and one of the most sympathetic characters in the book) and becomes an abbé, the first step towards entering the priesthood himself. First, however, he takes a job as tutor to the children of M. de Rênal, the local mayor, who employs him mainly to boost his status in the community. Julien is young and very pretty, and Mme. de Rênal takes an interest in him that soon becomes much more. But such idylls cannot last; by the end of the first book, Julien has embraced the ascetic life of the seminary in Besançon, where his abilities evoke the hostility of his mediocre companions.
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